Japan halts criminal contempt case against freelancer raising alarm about return to Fukushima

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      An international press-freedom organization is highlighting a decision by a Japanese prosecutor to suspend criminal-contempt proceedings against a freelance journalist.

      It concerned a tweet that Mari Takenouchi made about a group's efforts to get people to return to areas contaminated by the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

      The head of a group called Ethos filed a complaint against Takenouchi after she claimed that having these people return constituted an "experiment on human beings".

      "The decision to suspend the proceedings against the journalist Mari Takenouchi is obviously encouraging, but we persist in calling on the authorities to abandon them altogether and not just suspend them,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said.

      Japan likes to portray itself as a free country, but it only ranks 59th in the World Press Freedom Index compiled in 2014 by Reporters Without Borders.

      Japan fell six spots this year, in part because of censorship linked to the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe.

      "Arrests, home searches, interrogation by the domestic intelligence agency and threats of judicial proceedings—who would have thought that covering the aftermath of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster would have involved so many risks for Japan’s freelance journalists?" Reporters Without Borders states on its website. "The discrimination against freelance and foreign reporters resulting from Japan's unique system of Kisha clubs, whose members are the only journalists to be granted government accreditation, has increased since Fukushima."

      Freelancers are often barred from news conferences, the press-freedom group adds. And the owner of the Fukushima plant, TEPCO, has "denied access to the information available to the mainstream media (which censor themselves)".

      "Now that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government has tightened the legislation on 'state secrets', their fight will get even more dangerous."

      Japan's lousy press-freedom ranking puts it behind countries such as Niger, Serbia, Haiti, Romania, and Burkina Faso, which are hardly seen as bastions of liberty by people in the western world.

      The ranking fell in the wake of Tokyo winning permission from the International Olympic Committee to host the 2020 Summer Games.

      Finland is first on the World Press Freedom Index and Canada ranks 18th.